Nigeria prior to the presidential and parliamentary elections: peace at risk, terror on the rise
“Religion means helping others. Those who kill in the name of religion are in blatant contradiction to this.”
An interview with Ignatius Ayau Kaigama, Archbishop of Jos, President of the Nigerian Bishops’ Conference and the Christian Association of Nigeria.
Conducted by Maria Lozano, ACN International
With about 170 million inhabitants, the Federal Republic of Nigeria is the most heavily populated country in Africa. Official statistics estimate that the country has about equal numbers of Christians and Muslims. Although the West African country has extensive oil reserves, it is characterized by extreme social differences and repeatedly rocked by violence. The Islamist sect Boko Haram is especially pervasive in its attempts to destabilize society with targeted terrorist acts.
Archbishop Kaigama: “Due to its large population of about 170 million inhabitants and its sheer size, Nigeria is considered a giant in Africa. The people look to the country. Everything has an effect on others, including the negative: consider the terrorist activity of Boko Haram, for example. It started in Nigeria and spread quickly. The neighbouring countries, Cameroon, Niger and Chad, are now also at risk. If the people flee the violence, if many millions were to flee, for example to Ghana or Cameroon, this would have a severe impact on these countries. It is very important to stop these kinds of developments. After all, when Nigeria is doing well, this affects all of West Africa. If war were to break out in the country, it would destabilize the entire region.”
Religiously motivated violence is on the rise. Some say that this is caused by the religions themselves?
Archbishop Kaigama: “Everything has the potential to cause violence, including the daily struggle to survive. Religion involves the heart, the core, and is for this reason often very emotional. Religare, however, actually means ‘to be connected’, and therefore, the people live in relationships, in friendships, as sisters and brothers before God. As I myself have experienced it, religion also means helping others, something that the Catholic church does worldwide, for example through education or medical care. In the village in which I was raised we did not have streets, a school, a hospital until the Irish missionaries arrived.”
But why does it come to outbreaks of violence in the name of religion?
Archbishop Kaigama: “Killing others in the name of religion is a blatant contradiction to everything I have just described. This is an abuse of religion. Some use religion for their own purposes because they want to draw attention to themselves. They resort to weapons and kill because they want to be seen or heard. Religion is their means to an end. If we look closely, we will find other reasons: destroyed families, a lack of education, social inequality, irresponsible government policies, bad economic policies and others. All of these things drive young people into the wrong hands. The violence of religious fanatics is a sign that many things are not as they should be.”
What matters now in view of the upcoming elections?
Archbishop Kaigama: “It is time to show solidarity. We want to hold free and fair elections without violence. We want democracy, good government policies and that the militant Islamist groups change their attitude. We want to live together peacefully, as brothers and sisters. I therefore ask for your prayers that the upcoming elections can be held peacefully, without violence and without bloodshed.”